This article by Neal Broverman first appeared in HIVPlusmag.com here.
When John Miles was feeling his worst—fighting HIV, arthritis, and the autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome—pork loin and sweet potato soup became his salvation.
Desperate to take control of his health and life, Miles turned to cooking. Miles, now HIV-positive for two decades, taught himself to create healthy dishes as a way to boost not only his ailing body but also his self-pitying mind.
“Making healthy, simple meals gave me an inner strength and value I can’t even put into words,” Miles says.
Seeing the transformation in himself, Miles wanted to bring his knowledge and recipes to other people fighting chronic diseases and suffering through side effects from medication. Miles and his partner, Lee Garvin, launched PhysicallyFriendlyCooking.com last year, with easy-to-follow video recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as appetizers, snacks, and desserts. The user-friendly site features an introduction from Miles:
“Getting back into the kitchen and preparing even the smallest meal can give you some ownership of your life,” he says. “I know what it’s like to go through that morning when you just don’t know why you’re getting out of bed, what your day’s going to show you. You can’t just lay there.”
Miles gets help with the videos from Garvin and Garvin’s brother, Josh. All the videos are filmed in Miles and Garvin’s home near Atlanta, with Lee handling camera work and Josh doing the editing. The videos are then uploaded to the website, which is managed by a family friend. The cooking and how-to videos come off as effortless—they’re not—and wouldn’t be out of place on the Food Network.
Miles’s latest recipes feature wholesome but substantial fare; picture veggie marinara, sweet potato soup, pan-seared salmon, roasted asparagus, and berry smoothies. For those with HIV, Miles says it’s important to eat food that supports and promotes a healthy immune system (fruits and vegetables) and cut down on processed and packaged items (like TV dinners and frozen burritos).
Miles devotes a section of the site to quick tips, where you can learn how to roast meats, freeze fruit, and even the best way to clean up in a jiffy. The effort of cooking and cleaning is why many people prefer to pick up something fast and pre-made—especially people living on their own. There are many things you can prepare that are easy and healthy, Miles says, and there are dishes that can be made days in advance and warmed up when you’re feeling run-down and don’t have the energy to cook.
“I am truly blessed to have a wonderful partner and family,” Miles says. “[But] too many are managing these devastating losses alone or in relationships that are abusive and unsupportive. It is very easy to fall into the stigma of society that we are broken and have nothing to offer, but we do. We are more than our illness.”
Miles likes to emphasize that when you’re down in the dumps, doing something good for yourself, like preparing a healthy, delicious meal, is a great way to turn around your mood.
“When you are making a difference in your life,” he says, “no matter how small, it will make you feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically.”